The ‘B’ word

When I started working as a teacher, I was inundated with words of advice:

‘Don’t work past 9pm’
‘Make sure to plan your holidays in advance’

‘Done is better than perfect’

All well-intending advice and some of which I eventually learned to be true (especially that last one, it’s now one of my life mottos), but what was this advice for? To help me become a better teacher? Or to protect me from the dreaded ‘B’ word – Burnout.

Photo credit: Anna Tarazevich

When I was in uni I studied a subject called ‘Industrial and Organisational Psychology’ which looked at the areas of Psychology around people in the workplace and organisations. For one of my essays I chose to research the topic of burnout. I found the subject equal parts interesting, relatable and concerning. Burnout can be described as chronic stress that can result in:

  • physical and emotional exhaustion
  • cynicism and detachment
  • feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment1

Despite knowing so much about the topic, by the time I left teaching I had experienced all of these symptoms.

As I started to have more conversations with people about this, I realised that another ‘B’ word was starting to trigger me – Balance.

Photo credit: Nataliya Vaitkevich

The phrase ‘work-life balance’ gets thrown around so often that I’m not too sure I know what it even means. Does it mean that I have enough time to achieve my work goals and life goals? That work demands don’t rule over my personal life? Or that I’m able to switch off my work brain when I’m at home?

It seems like a beautiful and seemingly unobtainable goal with countless articles written on the subject and one that everyone has an opinion on. I made it one of my goals in 2017 but soon became frustrated when I realised that all the advice around how to achieve work-life balance, whilst mostly practical and I’m sure helpful for many people, all seemed far easier said than done.

I’m sure everyone has their own definition and method of finding it, but balance was eluding me. I was frustrated at my lack of balance. I was resentful towards my inability to make the situation better.

Photo credit: Cup of Couple

It wasn’t until I started preparing for marriage in the second half of 2017 that I came across one last ‘B’ word when I read a book that would later influence how I understood all my relationships, including my relationship with my work. The book was ‘Boundaries in Marriage’ by Drs. Cloud & Townsend – one of many texts from their series on ‘Boundaries’2. Whilst this book was written with the perspective of marriages in mind, it also taught me how to understand the boundaries that I establish in all areas of my life in a way I had never considered before.

Photo credit: Merilin Kirsika Tedder

Like a fence, physical boundaries are meant to help us to put limits on our time and energy. Previously, putting a boundary on my work meant limiting how much time I spent at work or whether or not I received work emails on my phone. Boundaries meant saying ‘no’ when people asked me for things. These physical boundaries were helpful, but they weren’t necessarily the boundaries that were being broken. Drs. Cloud & Townsend describe emotional and spiritual boundaries that need to be set and maintained in order for us to nurture and take responsibility for ourselves as healthy adults.

Now I still failed at maintaining my boundaries with work, which is how I found myself so burnt out at the end of 2019. However, I was now able to understand my state and use language to describe how I got here through the lens of ineffective boundaries.

Photo credit: Harrison Haines

I am certainly not an expert and I am still learning more about myself and how to protect my boundaries when it comes to work and life. Since I didn’t work last year, I am both nervous and keen to test out what I have learnt in the year to come. I hope that I will be able to protect the boundaries I previously neglected, whilst opening doors to areas that need some loving kindness from others.

One of my favourite Bible passages is from the book of Proverbs, chapter 3, verses 5-8:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.
Be not wise in your own eyes;
    fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be healing to your flesh
    and refreshment to your bones.

Proverbs 3:5-8 (ESV)

I am thankful for the healing and refreshment God has given me to help me recover from burnout. I am striving to not be wise in my own eyes, because I know I do not have all the answers. I may not know what this year has in store but I know that I can trust in God to guide the way.

Header image credit: Nataliya Vaitkevich

1: Carter (2013), The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout
2: Boundaries by Drs Cloud & Townsend

4 thoughts on “The ‘B’ word

  1. Thanks Abbi. It’s helpful to hear your B words and how critical they are. We trust you are able to keep the Burnout at bay with Balance and Boundaries this year in your internship. It’s challenging working it out in ministry but so worth it.


    1. abbikwan

      Thanks Sam & Janet for your encouragement! It will definitely be an interesting journey ahead exploring this area alongside my ministry.


  2. Pingback: Rest – | abbi writes |

  3. Pingback: Intern? – | abbi writes |

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s